everything is scaffolding

I recently suggested that there are two ugly evil twins trying to sabotage modern learning. I’ve previously argued that we need to cherish plagiarism rather than submitting to first evil twin and accepting an unreasonable and overly restrictive view of copyright. Today, I argue against the second evil twin, the over the top view of cyber safety, explaining that everything is scaffolding and therefore [almost] everything should be available for all of our students, all of the time.

Scaffolding, traditionally done by a parent or teacher acting as a “more knowledgeable other”, to provide support and guidance that enables the learner to successfully achieve a learning task or activity. Without scaffolding a learners capacity to achieve is limited.

Scaffolding is no longer the domain of teacher and parent. Scaffolding is no longer the domain of the expert. Thanks to transparent and real time sharing via the Internet, everything is scaffolding. When learners follow and subscribe and observe their learning activities, it is scaffolding. When learners remix or build upon the work of others, it is scaffolding. When learners respond, reflect and contrast having consumed ideas of others, it is scaffolding. When learners participate in memes, it is scaffolding. When learners friend. When learners follow. When learners like. When learners tag. When learners comment and post. When learners search. Everything is scaffolding.

When schools ban, filter and restrict access or the activities of our students they limit the scaffolding opportunities and therefore limit the learning opportunities for our students. No one would argue that the worst of the worst of the Internet should ne filtered, but let’s leave it there, lest we compromise the education of our students. When we develop policy, when we advocate, when we provide expert opinion let’s come from the side of what modern technology makes possible for our students, rather than what might go wrong in some scary evil make-believe alternate reality.

Let’s start calling cyber safety for what it is, an ugly evil twin trying to limit the opportunities for our students to achieve more.


Note: Dave Winer has previously blogged that everything is scaffolding I’ve stolen (refer to ugly evil twin one) the term from him 


there is no next big thing

There I said it, there will be no next big thing in education, so stop waiting for something better.

Luckily for us, our schools and our students, what we have now is fantastic and it is all we need.

The paradigm shift that was Web 2.0 has provided us with all we need. It was a big shift, we realised it at the time but I think some of the wonder might have worn off.  There will not be another paradigm shift, there will not be a Web 3.0.

I’m not saying that there won’t be new products and new technologies created in the next 10 years or so, of course there will, they’ll get faster and cheaper and easier to use (hopefully we won’t trade too much functionality for ease of use). But that these new products will build upon the foundations that are available to us now.

It is time for us to act.

We now have the conditions for modern learners to tackle projects of complexity previously unimaginable. Through building upon other’s work. Through organising complex data. Through self-organising project teams. Through ad hoc project teams. Through managing complex group projects. Through quickly obtaining high quality feedback.

We now have the conditions for self-directed moderns learners to be better informed and therefore make better learning decisions. Through learning from others by following their activity streams. Through obtaining feedback on published work and ideas. Through learning analytics seamlessly generated. Through conditions that allow others to inform and intervene.  Through participating in memes.

We now have the conditions for modern learners to construct knowledge and make meaning together. Through consuming diverse content and ideas. Through publishing successes, failures and ideas.  Through personal learning networks. Through communities forming around objects of interest.

If we take advantage of these opportunities, we’ll see student learning outcomes that are broader, deeper, more relevant, more complex and more creative than we could ever imagine.

There is no next big thing but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t exciting times ahead.

diversity trumps curation

TED Ed launched this week, it is doomed to fail. It is yet another solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Modern learners don’t need high quality expert content, they need diversity.

Diversity trumps curation

TED Ed’s tag line is “Lessons Worth Sharing” apparently according to TED its not delivery of content that is the problem, it is that the content isn’t high enough quality, wrong. People learn by doing, by solving problems, by identifying the important ideas and understandings from those that are not and through learning conversations with mentors and co-learners. TED Ed thinks learners learn by consuming expert content then taking a quiz to check their learning, wrong again. Totally wrong.

Just like Khan Academy, TED Ed thinks that learning is about pushing content and testing comprehension. Just How Small Is an Atom is one of the featured lessons, it is well produced and very nicely done and it serves as a good illustration of the purpose and limitations of TED Ed. After 5 and half minutes of video students can take the TED Ed quiz. These are simple comprehension questions, What is in between the nucleus and the electrons in an atom? or The number of atoms in a grapefruit would be equivalent to … Watch the video answer the questions and then forget, rinse and repeat. All recorded by the TED Ed software so that the teacher can see all the good learning their students are doing. How anyone can think this type of rote learning has any place in any learning situation is beyond me.

Then there is the Think section, in this case three open ended questions. These questions move slightly on from the recall of facts with the first two questions asking about visualising scale, Describe the size of the atom and Come up with your own analogy as to the size of the atom. These questions highlight the missed opportunity because this video lesson does not provide any method for students to visualise extremely small or extremely large numbers and therefore I’d expected answers to these questions to provide simple substitutions, for example rather than using blueberries and football stadiums lets think of something half the size of both, and voila, demonstrated learning. Because the “lesson” does not attempt to teach the student strategies once the facts are forgotten the student will be back where they started. Of course, this won’t really matter as the facts are only a click away anyway. And given that it is so easy to look up these facts, what really is the point of this rote learning? Trivia nights? People use the Google at those nowadays.

But isn’t curation a good thing?

Curation is only worthwhile when done by either the individual or by the collective, that is a highly interconnected group formed around an object of interest. When we attempt to curate for others we fail miserably, we either curate too narrowly trivialising the object of study or we curate too widely losing focus and failing distinguish what is important. Curating for others also delivers the false impression that domain knowledge or understanding is rooted in static facts. Curated collections need to be dynamic, recognising that they are simply a point in time representation of personal/collective understanding.

Whether it be TED Ed, Khan Academy, Codecademy, Udacity, Moodle courses, Blackboard, Coursera, learning objects, MOOCs, Open Course Ware, iTunes University or any other new old fangled way to deliver content to learners, they are all doomed to pale imitations of what really is now possible because…….

diversity trumps curation.


Cherish Plagiarism

At yesterday’s presentation at the QSA Conference I suggested that we should cherish plagiarism, and that over the top concerns about copyright and privacy/cyber bullying are the ugly evil twins trying to stop technology-driven pedagogical transformation. There was pushback from some, and unfortunately we didn’t have time to finish the discussion. So here is why I think plagiarism is fantastic, crucial for learning and should be encouraged and celebrated, and why schools’ obsession with copyright and attributing is so harmful. 


My son Ned is seven years old, he doesn’t often write for fun yet last weekend he spent about eight hours writing out a user guide for the computer game he is creating called Moptropica. If you’re familiar with Poptropica you’ve probably realised that many people would consider Ned a plagiariser. The names of the games are almost identical and the similarities don’t end there! Poptropica has islands such as SOS Island, Ghost Train Island, Moptropica also has islands, such as Radio Island, Fire Island and Upside Down Island. On each island in Poptropica you need to collect items to solve problems, in Moptropica you also have to collect items in order to solve problems. Poptropica has a user guide to help you along the way, and so does Moptropica.

It seems that Ned’s Moptropica game is a direct copy of Poptropica but I think that is only a small part of the story.

You see Poptropica is not original, it is classic adventure game, Poptropica didn’t invent the narrative puzzle solving game style but rather copied it, using a tried and tested formula. The islands that set the various locations in Poptropica have also be “taken” from other games, in fact, Scott Adams, the creator of Adventure game after which the genre is named, created a second adventure game, Pirate Adventure that was set on an island. Hundreds of other adventure games have also been set on islands, probably because they are such good places to search for treasure! Except for the name and the fact that Ned loves playing Poptropica, many many other games could more legitimately claim that it is fact stealing from them.

Looking beyond the name and the islands, Ned’s Moptropica is chock full of creativity and individual ideas. On Upside Down Island you get thrown in gaol because you’re not upside down, on Passage Island you use fire to melt the Ice Demons while protecting your eyes with sunglasses and on Cow Island you have to dig holes under the cows which they fall into. While Ned has certainly been inspired by Poptropica’s name and settings (which  as we’ve seen aren’t original) the most important bits, the ideas are his. That is certainly not to diminish Poptropica’s role, without Poptropica Ned wouldn’t have been able to create his game, just as without previous adventure games Poptropica would not have been created. Poptropica was the inspiration and the catalyst, it allowed Ned to create something that more creative and more complex than he otherwise could.


Nothing is truly original, everything is built upon someone else’s work. If you don’t believe me go and watch Everything Is A Remix. Ideas and creativity don’t come from thin air, they are built upon other people’s work and ideas. Think of something original you’ve created lately, now look at bits that have been borrowed from others, I bet your original part is less than 1% of the total product. The other 99% is copied, your small piece of originality is only possible because of the other copied 99%.

Creativity and innovation require openness and the relinquishing of ownership. The innovation we have witnessed across the Internet has been built upon openness and a relaxed (and reasonable) view of copyright and ownership. Open source and creative commons have seen innovation flourish because they encourage others to reuse and build upon their work. They realise that claiming ownership of things that are obvious is not only silly but is counter-productive to progress. That building on the work of others not only reduces costs and time that it takes to create a new product but also increases the level of creativity and complexity of the product.

My hope is that schools (and everyone) moves on from a restrictive and erroneous view of ownership and copyright and starts to cherish plagiarism.


Footnote: Trying to give something a name doesn’t mean you own it

I’ve been quietly concerned by a number of educators claiming ownership of ideas that clearly not theirs. You can’t add 1% of new material and then claim you own it. When educators try to do this, they damage the potential of technology and they create artificial barriers to progression. We see patent trolls and the damage they do, lets not see it happen in education. Often these educators think they’ve created a tiny piece of originality, which usually is not only not original but also completely obvious, and then not only do they try to claim ownership of the idea but also retrospectively claim ownership of ideas and concepts beyond their tiny non-original idea.

My hope is that we see less and less of this. Cherish Plagiarism.